Ashes

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I knelt this morning at the altar of a small Episcopal church. Thin in number, six of us – women, all – wrapped around the gentle curve of the wooden frame. The priest, a man I’d met just 30 minutes earlier as I walked in the door, placed his thumb on my forehead and said my name.

“Beth – it is Beth, right?”

I was a stranger to the ritual, and it was not comfortable. I kept one eye open, watching the others for cues. How do I do this? What comes next? What will make me look like I belong?

Interesting, that thought process. We moved through the motions; I heard the words, felt the prayers around me, found the give-and-take rhythm of the Psalm we batted back and forth with the priest.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 
Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from sin.”

Later we proceeded past the mostly empty pews to the altar again; the priest placed the crisp, unleavened communion bread on my tongue. We drank from a common cup.

The bread and wine and words filled my mouth, flooded my heart, rushed through my limbs.

I belong.

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